Haplochromis sp. “blue back”

Ok, let me preface this article by stating that there is almost NO information on these fish. The information I do have comes through personal communication.  Any and all errors should be considered mine.  As far as I know, there are only a few other people who have this species.

Common Name: None

Synonyms: None that I am aware of.

Distribution: Africa; Lake Victoria (most likely Kenya, but this hasn’t been confirmed)

Size: Maximum size seems to be around 4”(10cm) for males with females staying slightly smaller.

Colouration: Base colouration of these cichlids is grey. Males have orange near the back of their dorsals and on the caudal  fins. The top half of their back is yellow when dominant, otherwise sub males tend to have a blueish-grey back. The front part of the dorsal is blueish white colour (very hard to describe as it changes due to mood. The midpart of the dorsal is yellow, tending towards orange on the back.  The amount of yellow varies between males. Generally these fish have a couple of blotches along the midbody that can turn into an almost solid line when the male is excited. They also have a small line above the midbody line but only approximately a third of the body length, in the middle of the back. The bottom half of the body stays grey unless the male is showing dominance or wanting to breed.  The bottom becomes almost black with some vertical stripes going up from the bottom. These stripes get fainter as they travel up the body.  Males have the typical yellow occelli with a clear edging around it. The anal fins are yellow. The pelvics are dark and can go completely black depending on mood. Females have a lot less colouring. They have the grey body with the blotches the males have, but it seems they tend to have a few more but smaller blotches  along the mid body.  They also have light yellow anal fins, and a yellowish colour to their caudal and pelvic fins.  Females can get darker as well according to mood.
Diet: Probably an opportunistic detritus or awfuch feeder in the wild near shore. In the aquarium it takes pellets, flakes of all sorts and any other food given to the tank. It loves crushed snails.

Breeding: Mouthbrooder

Spawn size: Depends on size of the female, but in general can run from 5-40 fry. At 78°F (25°C) the fry should be released in approximately 18 days, much the same as most other

pH: 7.2-8.6  

Temperature:76-79°F (24-26°C)

Temperament: Mildly aggressive, but not overly so.

Tank Décor: They like rock work or caves but don’t seem to require these for territory.

Additional info: They show a similarity to the old blue fire fins but are not the same. If a genus had to be assigned to this fish, they would most likely end up being Xystichromis or Mbipia.

I personally do not like the name given to this fish as it really doesn’t show a blue back often. The thing that stands out about this Victorian cichlid is the fact that they have orange fins and not red which is so typical of the Victorian mpibi.  I think this is what the name should be based on and not “blue back” which isn’t descriptive of this fish at all.  I’d like to offer another suggestion for a name for it; Haplochromis sp. “orange-fire fin”, Haplochromis sp. “orange-fire blue back” or even just Hap. Sp. “orange-fire”. This name reflects more on the features that make it additionally unique amongst the other fish from Lake Victoria.

I received these fish originally from Greg Steeves in Texas. He sent me a box full of Victorian ‘goodies’ (These were Paralabidochromis sp. 'Rock Kribensis' "Mwanza Gulf", Haplochromis sp. 'blue back', Pundamilia nyererei "Python Island" and Mbipia lutea 'spotbar').  Most of the fry were quite small yet.  These were very small and got placed into a small 10 gallon barebottom tank I had open. I was not expecting as many fish as I got and so ended up placing some fish into tanks that would be too small for them eventually.  This tank was filtered by a sponge filter and had no heat. It stayed only at room temperature, so these fish can go lower than the recommended temperatures. I think the bottom tanks (where they were) only got to around 70°F.  

I later found out that these fish were quite rare and that I better breed them as they should be distributed into the hobby.  I had to wait until they got some size on them. I was going to place them into my 225 gallon tank with other assorted Malawians (and a few oddballs – one Julidochromis marlieri and a pair of firemouths).  This took quite a while as it always seems that you never take as good a care with tanks that you just don’t see often. They were given bi-weekly water changes and fed a good flake diet, with pellets added in.

When they reached approximately 2” in size, a few were placed in the main tank to see how they’d fare. I didn’t want to put them all in and find out that the inhabitants of the 225g hated them and, as such, killed them. After seeing the ones I put in survive for a week in with their bigger tankmates, I moved the rest.  I ended up with around 10 fish. It turned out that I seemed to have gotten a fairly even split between the sexes. However, since the fish were kept in the 10 for so long, a few did get stunted. Unfortunately it seems the small ones were the females. I kept an eye on the situation, and it appeared that the little ones had no problems in the main tank either.

They were fed the same food as everything else in that tank. A mix of regular flake, brine shrimp flake and earthworm flake. This tank also receives NLS pellets and some floating baby turtle pellets (someone I’m related to and I won’t say who, bought these at auction and I wanted to at least use them).  Crushed snails were fought over by all the fish in the 225 gallon. The tank at that time had a white sand bottom with pots, rocks and some shells. There was also a Jungle Vall plant in a pot in the tank as well. There was no direct lighting of this tank, all it got was ambient room lighting and light through a nearby window.  This tank also got weekly-biweekly water changes depending on my schedule.

I had these fish for over a year before I saw a female holding eggs. I suspect that’s because the tank is fairly busy and they were just not big enough to spawn without interruption.  I stripped the female pretty early for me knowing that these fish are rare.  I tumbled them til they hatched and kept them for almost 2 months in a small container.  When I decided to move them into a larger tank, I had a disaster. I discovered the next day that every one of the 20+ fry I moved had died in the new tank. I was devastated. I could not believe what happened. Again, the female held (but not til much later), but all I could rescue was 1 fry!!

I couldn’t believe how hard this was going to be. I ended up raising that fry with some electric yellow fry that were about the same size. Again…. disaster was waiting for me. Doing a routine water change on that tank I found that the now 2” fish had jammed himself in one of the slots of my sponge filter and had died there!  I was beside myself now. I felt like I didn’t deserve to keep such a rare fish.

It was about this time we decided to move. What an undertaking that is when you have as many tanks as we do!  The week we started to move stuff, I discovered she was again holding. I left her alone for about 10 days and then stripped her. I got 11 fry. I was a little worried as we were now living in another house, and most of the fish were still at the old house. They seemed to do well. After we moved most of the tanks, I discovered I needed to move them so I could move the tank that their container was sitting on. I placed those fry in with some P. nicholsi fry I had and they ended up in a 10 gallon tank.  After I’d put them together I realized I should have put them with something different. The fry look very similarly coloured at that size. I guess I’ll just have to wait until they put on some size for me to tell them apart. When they get a bit bigger, I’ll start offering some around.

© Copyright 2007 Lisa Boorman
All Rights Reserved

Suggested Reading:

The Cichlid Aquarium by Dr. Paul Loiselle

Baensch Aquarium Atlas: Photo Index 1-5 by Hans A. Baensch, Gero W. Fischer

Lake Victoria Rock Cichlids - taxonomy, ecology, and distribution by Ole Seehausen

African Cichlids II : Cichlids from Eastern Africa : A Handbook for Their Identification, Care and Breeding by Wolfgang, Dr. Staeck, Horst Linke

Darwin's Dreampond : Drama in Lake Victoria by Tijs Goldschmidt

To see more references on cichlids:

Cichlid Book List

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